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Foodie Fare

Going to Hukilau for fine local grinds

Story By Sarah Pacheco Photos By Nathalie Walker
August 28 - September 3, 2011

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When venturing out of the office for lunch, hungry nine-to-fivers often run into a variety of hurdles that can make dining out during the work week a bit unappetizing.

  • General manager and chef Jason Takemura and restaurant manager Emerson Lewis present mouthwatering Hukilau creations.
  • Maunakea Kobe Burger ($14) with sweet potato fries.
  • Bento of the Day ($16)
  • Ahi Poke Salad
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But finding an affordable midday meal needn’t be an added item on that already all-too-long list of things to do; simply head to Hukilau for a taste of small-town Hawaii conveniently located in the heart of the big city.

“I think we have been well-received in the local downtown community,” says Jason Takemura, executive chef and general manager of the restaurant, which is located in the lower lobby of the Executive Centre Hotel.

“Since day one, lunch has been busy every day.” One item the lunchtime crowds can’t get enough of is the Ahi Poke Salad ($13). Made with inamona ahi poke and served on a bed of mixed Nalo greens, this healthy dish also includes local vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, Maui onions, crispy hasu chips, avocado and a house ponzu vinaigrette.

“This is a great way to eat a light but hearty lunch without feeling sluggish when you go back to work,” Takemura says. “(It) is our most popular salad that is served as an entrée.”

Another popular main course is the Maunakea Kobe Burger ($14), a half-pound American-style Wagyu beef burger topped with bleu cheese, butter, lettuce, tomatoes, crispy bacon, avocado and crispy onions all drizzled with a chipotle aioli. The meal comes with your choice of french fries or Caesar salad, but garlic fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings or truffle fries can be substituted for a $1 more.

“This is one of our most popular items,” Takemura says. “Who doesn’t love a thick, juicy burger with all the fixings already built in … and bleu cheese?!”

Those who crave something even more substantial can’t go wrong with the Bento of the Day ($16), which includes medley of salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert options that are never the same day-to-day.

“The bento changes daily and always has fresh fish,” Takemura says. For example, on a recent visit to Hukilau, the bento box contained Nalo Mixed Greens Salad, Kalua Pig & Rock Shrimp Spring Roll, Grilled Opah with Lemon Caper Butter Sauce, white rice and Asian vegetables, and a Cinnamon White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Vanilla Crème Anglaise. Return the next day, and the meal’s contents will have completely changed.

“This keeps it ‘fresh’ for customers who frequent the restaurant often and doesn’t allow them to feel like they are always eating the same thing,” Takemura notes, adding that including a salad, appetizer, entrée and dessert all at once also cuts down on the dining time for the busy guest on the go.

“Most people don’t have time to enjoy a four-course lunch on a limited lunch hour,” he explains. “This gives (diners) small but generous portions so that they can enjoy variety during their meal.”

On the Side

When three local boys one from Kapaa, one for Ewa Beach, and the last from Hilo opened the first Hukilau restaurant more than a decade ago in San Francisco, it was to create a place where they could meet up for tasty local-kine food, relax with some island jams and talk story with other Hawaii transplants now living on the Mainland.

“They wanted to create a place where ‘locals’ could go,” says Jason Takemura, executive chef and general manager of the Honolulu eatery, which opened in the downtown Executive Centre Hotel in May 2007.

“(The restaurant) became a place of gathering all of the people from Hawaii (together), hence a play on the name Hukilau.”

In addition to the San Francisco and Hawaii locations, there is a Hukilau restaurant in San Jose, Calif., as well.

“The Mainland restaurants do very well with the local crowd,” Takemura says. “There are so many people from Hawaii who live on the West Coast now they have a place where they can still feel attached to their local roots.”

And with a menu serving upscale plate lunch favorites like Miso Butterfish ($19), Asian Chicken Salad ($11), Portobello “Katsu” Mushroom Sandwich ($12), Homestyle Fried Pork Chops ($12; $10 during Happy Hour), Kim Chee Shrimp Fried Rice ($9; $7 during Happy Hour), Huki-min Saimin ($11) and Oxtail Soup with rice ($12), you can’t help but feel the aloha.

“They have been a success since day one,” says Takemura, who is always impressed with the weekly specials sous chef Nick Garces thinks up.

“He does an excellent job coming up with new and creative specials,” proclaims Takemura, noting the Roasted GarlicCrusted Prime Rib special, which is served only on Wednesdays.

“A lot of times he incorporates some type of risotto dish,” Takemura says. “If he doesn’t run a risotto special, we will always have people complain of ask to special-order the dish. We always accommodate them and make it.”

Hukilau also provides catering services, as well as live entertainment every Friday at the restaurant. Visit the website for more information.

Hukilau

  • Where
    • Executive Centre Hotel, Lower Lobby
    • 1088 Bishop St., LL13
  • Call
    • (808) 523-3460
  • Hours
    • Monday-Friday
    • 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (Lunch)
    • 3-9:30 p.m. (pupu/dinner)
    • with Happy Hour from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and all night Friday Parking available in Executive Centre structure